Earlier in the week, I wrote an article titled, “3 Ways Social Media Is Hurting Your Local Church.” In that particular article, I focused on the negative aspects of digital life that actually causes us to be less social than we realize. Today, I want to look at ways in which social media can help your local church. In order for a church to benefit from social media, the church must have a plan, a team, and everyone must know the difference between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—and when it’s appropriate to use each specific platform. There are many aspects that are worthy of a conversation, but I want to focus on three main issues that are both practical and theological in nature. For starters, we must all recognize that social media is not all bad—in fact it can be quite profitable.
Information, Information, Information
What are the three main rules of real estate? You know the drill—right? When it comes to discipleship, much of our spiritual development centers upon getting the right information. First of all, the Word of God is central. A steady diet of God’s Word is necessary for spiritual growth. Beyond the Scriptures, we should be reading good material, good authors, good commentaries, and yes—good blogs. According to one source, “By 2017, there will be more internet traffic than all prior internet years combined.” At the mid-year mark of 2017, we can certainly see that online activity shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, it appears to be increasing.
The digital world is like a large bowl of spaghetti. Anyone can create a website, a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, or a Pinterest board in just a matter of a few minutes. There is a basic need, from the beginning, to learn how to digitally organize your pixels and words into a usable form. When done properly, good information can be found at the tip of your fingers almost instantly. For instance, just tonight our media team ran our first Facebook Live of our mid-week Bible study. Within a few minutes, the video had been viewed over 500 times. Many of those people were friends of our members in the community. Yet, right there on their smart phone, a live session from our church appeared instantly on their screen offering immediate opportunities for discipleship.
Through social media, you can build good friends online, follow good accounts, and spend time reading good posts, updates, pages, articles, and books that you find linked from those particular sources. Today’s ebook world is filled with many opportunities to advance your spiritual progress. Just this morning I received a message from 9Marks about a free ebook offering. Following good accounts makes a difference.
Do you have an app on your smart phone for your Bible? Did you know that with the push of a button, you can post a helpful Bible verse to Facebook or Twitter? The very best method of evangelism is face-to-face over coffee or just sitting in a living room with an open Bible. However, one really good way that your local church can use social media is in the process of evangelism.
As a young adult, I was converted to Christianity while listening to a sermon online. Paul Washer has personally discussed with me testimonies received at HeartCry regarding countless people who have been converted by listening to his sermon “The Most Shocking Youth Sermon” online. The fact is, the vehicle of the internet is useful in delivering the gospel to large groups of people. Many of those people may live in the neighborhood around your church campus.
That being said, these connections with people don’t just happen. Aside from an intentional approach to social media—people will not see or interact with your church’s online material. Just because your church has a website and a Facebook page doesn’t mean anyone in your community knows about it. People in your church have to share content and invite people to like your church’s page before anyone will know it exists. Good content that’s well prepared, graphically appealing, and doesn’t appear as a manipulative scheme generally works best. How many people do you know who married someone they met online? That almost never happened at the beginning of the technology boom. Now, more than ever before, we are hearing statistics of people who have come to faith as a result of a sermon they heard online.
According to one study, “40% of global internet users, or more than 1 billion people, have bought products or goods online.” If that’s true of sales in general, imagine what the church search statistics look like. Where will you be on Saturday morning at 10:00am? Years ago, the most popular time for churches to go out into the community and engage people with the gospel and information about their church was by doing cold-door knocks in neighborhoods on Saturday morning. Although statistically speaking, we’re told that method doesn’t work today, I tend to believe that it works better than we think.
However, moving beyond what works to what’s most efficient—internet marketing on social media is very effective in getting information about your church before people’s eyes. With just a few dollars each week, you can place a really good advertisement before people directly in your community who may not have a local church they’re attending. This could be good for evangelism and for spreading the word about your church. The Millennial generation (born approximately 1980-1997) will hardly buy gas at a specific gas station unless they’ve visited their website first—much less attend a church before checking them out online. Your church’s social media presence really does matter.
You may not need a full-time staff person designated to managing your online presence, but it is something that a good volunteer team could oversee. Facebook now has over 1.94 billion monthly users, and most of your community is active on Facebook or another social media platform. Have a designated person who responds to messages and feedback given from the social media channels.
Don’t under-sell the value of social media for your local church. If you’re over 60, don’t talk down about the use of social media. Find value in it and explore opportunities to engage. If you’re under 40, don’t place too much emphasis on social media. Balance is the key with social media. Don’t allow it to control your life. Organize your time and tools. While we certainly shouldn’t go too far by expecting social media to do all of our discipleship, evangelism, and marketing—it can be harnessed to accomplish some of these important duties in a much more efficient manner. Last of all, consider sharing good content with others—especially information from your local church—especially the good news of Jesus. If your church has a poor online presence, consider volunteering your time and help your church reach more people in your community.
Two tools I use:
- Hootsuite — Organizing Twitter and Facebook
- Feedly — Reading good blogs and creating good blog lists
This past week, during the G3 Conference, I was asked a question that we should not overlook too quickly. I was asked, “What catalysts do you believe have led to the resurgence of sound biblical theology?” That question could be answered in several different ways from a variety of different angles, but I believe one of the key factors that has led to this resurgence, especially among young people, is the boom of information technology.
The Technology of the Past
During the era of Martin Luther, there was no such thing as social media (as we know it today). There was no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. Most written communication had to be done by hand. However, just as the Reformation sparked in Germany, the wave of Gutenberg’s printing press had taken off and was poised to print and distribute the works of the Reformers far and wide. As we look back at history, it’s almost like it was charted out and planned to happen that way. As we consider the sovereignty of God and His providence that governs the world—it’s clear that God was designing the pages of history.
Not only did students of Luther have his Ninety-Five Theses printed and distributed, but following Luther’s conversion a short time later, his books would be printed and spread all across Europe. What was not possible just a short time earlier was now driving the Reformation. Gutenberg’s press was serving as the vehicle of the Reformation. The flame was spreading and Gutenberg’s press was the catalyst.
The Technology of the Present
As we look at the modern resurgence of biblical theology, a high view of God, and a robust understanding of sovereign grace, in many ways the new advancements of information technology are being harnessed to spread the truth across the world. Many hours would go into the printing of a sermon, a tract, or a book in Luther’s day. It would be written down on paper by hand and then a printer would set the moveable type of a printing press in place, and with detailed precision, the ink would be stamped onto each page in order to compile a book. After further advancements, the press would become more efficient, but the process still took precious time. Then, after the printing phase ended, the distribution phase started. There was no UPS or FedEx in those days.
Today, an author can write an article and within a few minutes, he can publish it to the entire world by pressing one single button on a blog site. With the advancements of the printing industry, the publishing and distribution phases move at rapid pace in comparison to Luther’s day. We have moved quickly past the radio era into a new phase of technology that allows the end user the option of not only listening live, but also prerecorded media. What was not possible in the radio era is now possible in our video era as sermons can now be streamed through smart devices in video format. Modern technology, in many ways, has been used as a catalyst to spread truth and teach good biblical theology.
As we consider how primitive technology was in Luther’s day and how limited we were just 50 years ago, we should praise God for the tools and advancements that are available to us now. In many ways, our sanctification can benefit from the use of these technological advancements. In Luther’s day they were fighting to get the Bible printed for the people in their own language. Today, we can press a button on a screen and parse verbs in the original language with Logos Bible Software, read commentaries, and listen to sermons related to the verses we’re studying.
As we consider these modern tools and advancements, let us with glad hearts be good stewards of God’s blessings.
We enjoy technology on a daily basis. In fact, we are enjoying it now through the Internet by means of this blog. However, I’ve noticed that many times technology can create problems rather than delivering solutions. Technology and the church have a love-hate relationship. For information, technology is a good thing, but for community, it often isolates us and limits real relationships.
We have a class at our church for prospective members which is four weeks long and provides a presentation of the gospel and an overview of our distinct marks as a church. Each time the class rolls around, I begin class #2 on the church by talking about technology and the church.
I typically begin by asking how many people remember the old TV show – The Brady Bunch? This is a question that typically reveals ages fairly quickly. However, even the younger generation has often seen an old rerun on TV Land at some point. The show begins with a mixed family all appearing in little screens (boxes) on one big screen and while the theme song is being played, they are waving, conversing, and communicating with one another. As I point out – this was long before the boom of technology and the modern invention of Skype and FaceTime. What they were unable to do in reality – we enjoy in our present day.
The same thing is true regarding the old cartoon – The Jetsons. Although we are not able to fly around in our personalized spacecraft, we can talk to one another through computer screens and personal mobile phones. Who doesn’t love that type of technology? When we take trips away from our family members, we can see them and talk to them while being across the ocean. This is fascinating technology.
We live in a time in church history where steeples are being replaced with iPads and the presence of the preaching pastor is replaced by an image on a screen. The digital revolution has come and we continue to see the expansion of new ideas and methods that are largely influenced and updated by technology. However, as we think honestly and critically about the church, we can see that technology has many limitations.
The Limitation of Physical Presence
Some churches are going the e-church route with Internet campuses, websites, smart phone applications, and live stream preaching technologies that provide them the opportunities of being more mobile and less committed to a physical campus. I do think it’s important to disconnect the church from the building, but in a real sense, a physical presence is necessary in order for a church to exist.
In the pages of the early church, we see that the people gathered together. In fact, if you look at Acts 2, you will notice the word “together” is often repeated in the description of the newly founded church. Two times it’s used before the salvation of the 3,000 souls and two times it’s used after the explosion of growth. The point is clear – they made it a point to be together. In fact, they wanted to be together.
The Limitation of Personal Touch
When I travel for ministry, I often find my family and I gathered together on a screen. However, no matter how many conversations we have in the FaceTime world of technology with the ability to blow kisses, see facial expressions, and talk to one another while smiling at one another – there is something special about being in the presence of each other at the airport. My children often run and embrace me with my youngest clinging to my leg and hugging me. What technology could do in providing the physical sight of my family, it failed to provide personal touch.
We have a young couple who is presently going through our membership class who have recently moved here from Spain. We’ve had discussions about the proper way of greeting in Spain within their church being a kiss on both sides of the cheek. They have explained how hard it has been to transition away from that personal touch and embrace with fellow Christians in their new church culture in the United States. Personal touch matters. In Romans 16:16, we see Paul write these words, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” He repeats these same words in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. The point is clear – the early church greeted one another and there was a physical presence and personal touch among the people. This was a means of encouragement to one another in the midst of difficult times, a harsh culture, and an often unforgiving world.
The Limitation of Actual Community
In Hebrews 10, we see the important warning about neglecting to assemble together with the church. Community is important. If you look at Hebrews 10:24-25, you notice that the purpose of assembly was far more than filling a seat in the worship service. It involved stirring one another up in good works and encouraging one another. This takes place through physical presence in assembly and personal touch in greeting as well as intimate prayers, preaching, and other aspects of assembly.
In a real sense, we can gather as a church in the world of technology. Our presence can be visible through the online digitized representation of our physical body. We can use technology to talk to one another through the screen. We can assemble and hear a sermon preached through the lens of an iPad. We can have online giving setup and contribute to one account that will be used for operating costs of our ministry and missions. We can pray together. Much of what we do as a church can be accomplished through technology, but at the end of the day, there will be massive limitations.
As I teach the membership class, I like to propose the following question:
As you can see, we are sitting in one of the oldest parts of our church campus. We are a 173 year old church and we have a campus that is pieced together with buildings from different eras. Maintaining a church campus is not for wimps – especially an older campus. Last year we spent $70,000 on HVAC upgrades. There is constantly a need that arises from parking lot holes to paint on the walls and it can be quite costly. What if we all decided to liquidate our assets as a church and bank a few million dollars and transition our ministry into an e-church where we meet online? What if we meet online and do everything we typically do on a Sunday and Wednesday, and then meet once per month in a local school gymnasium for worship, the observance of the ordinances, and a fellowship meal – would this be sufficient? Think about how we could use the money for missions and church planting. What do you think?
Not one time have I had someone who actually took the bait and went with the idea. Everyone, no matter what age and how tech savvy they are, they see the holes in technology. They sense a need for real community. They understand the limitations of technology and the church assembly and fellowship. Just last week when I posed that question in our membership class, one of the men going through the class said the following:
My vote for an online campus is no. I’ve been responsible for launching them and know that it is an easy way for people to halfway go to church. They don’t engage and get to actually have human interaction. I’ve actually grown to despise many things that technology brings to a worship service. It easily becomes all about the tech and “what can we do?”
While we can continue to use technology within the church for the glory of God, we must be willing to admit that technology comes with a definite set of limitations. Although the world of technology will continue to expand and broaden into the future, we will never see a day where technology replaces the personal touch, presence, and interaction of a group of redeemed sinners assembling for worship and fellowship.
Dr. Russell Moore addresses the issue of technology and children. He concludes his article by saying, “Technology is good. Turning our children over to the cyber-wilderness is not.” You can read his full article here.
If you like your ESV app on your iPhone or iPad, you will enjoy the new version. It has increased functionality and an updated visual presentation that provides efficient reading. Crossway announced last week that it was available, and if you are not using the ESV Bible app, you should look into it here.
We live in a complex world surrounded by cell towers that provide high speed Internet access to super fast handheld computers that look and operate like a phone. According to a PewResearch study, “Some 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind.” The age of social media has consumed us. At times, the social media culture benefits us. Too often this technological world constrains us.
When was the last time you had to literally stop talking because the people in the room were in another room (or world depending on how you view it) through their phone? Some people are taking strides to overcome such challenges. Baskets are appearing at the door where party hosts are requesting that you drop off your smart phone upon arrival in order to stay engaged in real conversations during your time in their home. Some business owners are requesting that you disengage the tech world during their business hours and meeting times in order to stay on track and remain efficient.
As we unravel the complexities of the technology world, one thing is abundantly clear – Facebook cannot replace your church. Although Facebook and other social media outlets provide a point of connection for friends and family, Facebook is unable to become a replacement tool for the local church.
Peter preached his famous sermon, about 3,000 souls were saved. God’s church was founded, established, and was experiencing rapid growth. Acts 2:42-47 gives us a glimpse into the practices of the early church:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (ESV).
As we read about the interaction of the early church in the New Testament, we see a common “togetherness” that permeated the church. They were together for worship and for fellowship. They enjoyed time together. They spent time together. They prayed together. They shared meals together. They were a together people.
Facebook Lacks Genuine Connectivity
We pride ourselves on being a connected culture through social media and Internet advancement. However, the question remains – are we really that connected? There are 152 million active users of Facebook in the US and Canada. Facebook users spend about 21 minutes of each day on the social media site. With all of this time spent on social media websites, why do so many people feel disconnected in life and the church?
When you first login to Facebook, you can be overwhelmed with faces that you haven’t seen since high school. Facebook offers you a point of connectivity to rekindle old friendships and stay connected with distant family members. However, after a season of using Facebook, you may find that you really don’t connect with the people through the screen. Sifting through a list of typed status updates and instant messages beneath profile pictures is simply not enough.
The church is more than a campus or a building. If you’ve been a follower of Christ for any length of time, you certainly have come to realize that the church consists of the people. People in our world are longing for real depth and personal intimacy in their relationships, and this is certainly true within the church. Facebook may allow you to see a person’s chosen image, but it lacks a realness that transcends status updates and profile pictures. Most people don’t want their intimate life placed on display through social media, so an obvious barrier prevents depth in Facebook friendships.
The church is a group of people who have been brought together by Jesus Christ. The church assembles together for worship. The church lives life together away from the church campus. Therefore, assembling together for worship and fellowship outside of the weekly gatherings is essential for the health and vitality of relationships. This will not happen through the world of Facebook. Status updates cannot replace late night conversations over coffee.
It’s “normal” to be connected to someone through Facebook while remaining extremely disconnected from them in reality. It’s time to stop using Facebook to replace the genuine connectivity that God intends for His church to experience together. Facebook can be useful for evangelism, marketing, or outreach in general, but it lacks in building genuine community.
Facebook Lacks the Reality of Prayer Support
I rarely post prayer requests on Facebook. There is a reason for that. It’s really quite simple. Facebook isn’t my church. I have posted updates and prayer requests on Facebook, but that’s merely a means to get a more broad group of Christian friends to pray. I did this when my daughter was hospitalized earlier this year with her diabetes diagnosis. However, on a regular basis, I communicate my prayer needs and requests to my church. Facebook is a means of collecting and sharing information, but real prayer is done with my church family.
I often read status updates where people post information and I see statements in response that read, “prayers going up now….” I’m really not trying to be cynical, but I often ask myself how much real prayer is being offered up through Facebook? We are really good at saying, “I’m praying for you” when in reality we aren’t praying at all.
Facebook has literally thousands of prayer related pages and online communities. In fact, the “Prayer” page on Facebook has over 1.4 million likes. It’s highly probable that many people who are members in your church but rarely attend the prayer meeting are among that 1.4 million people who “like” and visit the prayer page on Facebook.
Facebook lacks a real voice behind the prayers. Facebook cannot replace a group of people gathered together during a mid-week prayer service weeping over an unrepentant brother. Facebook cannot provide an intimate prayer circle of real friends who are helping you with substance abuse or porn addiction. Facebook can provide you with information. You can provide people with information. However, God designed His church to be together rather than connected through screens.
Before you leave the church for Facebook, I would encourage you to think about leaving Facebook for the church.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
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You may be interested in the book by Tim Challies – The Next Story